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Roger Wright introduces this year's Proms

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Roger Wright Roger Wright | 16:34 UK Time, Thursday, 14 July 2011

Graphic of BBC Proms 2011


The 2011 BBC Proms start tomorrow and I remain astonished at the calm approach of my colleagues as the clock ticks away.

There is a mixed feeling of wanting to get on and kick off the festival, whilst at the same time secretly hoping that the First Night might be delayed by a week to give us all more time to get ready!

The broadcasting rig is in place in the Royal Albert Hall and the first proofs for the concert programmes are being circulated - two signs that we are almost there!

The aims of the Proms have remained the same since the festival's beginning in 1895 - chiefly to bring high quality classical music to the largest possible audience. There are though, inevitably, new challenges each year.

This year, for example, we have had to point out again to disappointed audiences that, even if they have been unsuccessful in getting tickets for particular Proms, they should keep on trying as tickets do get returned to the box office. Of course it is also important to remember that there are around 1000 tickets on sale on the day for just £5 - a vital factor in continuing the accessibility of the Proms. The success of the online booking system launched last year has made audience members more visible to each other as it has allowed them to see just how great is the demand for tickets. It is more fair than the previous system but it has clearly been a shock (for example to those seeking tickets for the Horrible Histories Prom) for the audience to see how quickly tickets are sold.  Sadly we can't make the hall capacity any larger, nor can we stem the flow of demand. Thank goodness for the chance to queue on the day. 

One piece of good news is that we have decided this year to increase the arena standing capacity by taking out the fountain for the whole season. There will be those who will mourn its loss - and the Promenaders will no doubt miss the chance to float an often surreal mix of inflatable creatures on the circular pond!    In recent years it has come and gone during the season, depending on the demands of each event and such issues as TV camera positions. But this year there will be no fountain so that we can fit more audience members into the arena. It will also help enormously with the increasingly complicated Proms schedule as we pack more events (and often more intricately staged concerts) into the festival diary. There will also be an additional benefit, as the filling and emptying of the fountain's vast quantities of water over a summer was not exactly environmentally friendly.  This change has given us an opportunity to re-think the look of the arena and I very much look forward to seeing the striking new design for the floor  when I go to the hall for the final rehearsals for the First Night. 

The use of social media has increased enormously since the 2010 Proms and it will be fascinating to see how it develops throughout the summer. Do please go to our newly refreshed Proms website and make the most of its interactive offers. There is a much more dynamic home page and I look forward to reading your reviews of the concerts.  

I hope you also enjoy another innovation this year - the Proms daily podcasts - short introductions by a handful of Radio 3 presenters to some of the key works on offer. I also await questions from the public for my regular Ask the Director sessions online throughout the Proms. It is always fascinating to hear from the audience and it is a great opportunity for me to answer any enquiries, no matter how straight forward they might be.  I wonder what the stories of the 2011 Proms will be. We are soon going to find out!

Roger Wright is Controller, BBC Radio 3 and Director, BBC Proms


  • Comment number 1.

    The fountain was also a nod to the oft-forgotten third founder of the Proms, ENT specialist George Cathcart, who put up the finance which Newman needed, and Wood didn't have. Cathcart believed that the higher humidity levels created by having a fountain in the hall would be good for singers' throats. He also paid for the retiming of the Queen's Hall organ to A=440Hz, and new wind instruments tuned to the same pitch, rather than the high Old Philharmonic pitch then usually used, again he felt the lower pitch would lessen the strain on singers' voices

  • Comment number 2.

    As the out-of-season keeper of some (most?) of the animals which make the fountain their home during the season, I fear I shall be the recipient of some unhappy rebbits, quacks and snorts when I tell them tonight that they shall not go to the hall!

    On a more serious note, the lack of fountain will make the arena a more unpleasant environment. It served as a break in the crowd making the arena more "airy" so its absence will make the arena feel more stuffy. The water also cooled the air in the middle of the arena, an area where the forced air ventilation doesn't reach!

    This will also reduce the number of seats available in the arena (I fear) and bang goes the space behind when one had a pretty good view of the stage.

    What a shame. Another piece of history bites the dust. I wonder how long it will be before Old Timber's bust becomes too much of a hassle and disappears too...

  • Comment number 3.

    We haven't managed to persuade the BBC to publicise the link to our Proms forum, but we hope all R3 listeners and Proms-goers will join us to discuss the concerts and all the news as they used to when R3 offered a Proms board.

    The dedicated bit of the Radio 3 Forum is here http://www.for3.org/forums/forumdisplay.php?69-The-Proms

  • Comment number 4.

    I am sorry to hear about the decision to get rid of the fountain on a number of counts, not least of which because it created an oasis of air in an otherwise stuffy Arena and I fear there may well be more thumps as people succumb to the heat.

    However, my main concern is that there will be an ugly scrum for the remaining seats.

    I am grateful to be allowed in early as I have arthritis of the knees and spondylolisthesis of the spine and so can no longer stand for any length of time. However I, like a number of others, still queue for an appropriate amount of time so as not to take advantage of this situation. As the remaining seats will now be at a premium I think that it should be a requirement that all those who need to enter ahead of the main queue get an Arena queuing ticket when they arrive and that seats should be chosen in that order. This seems to me the only fair way of allocating the vastly reduced number of places.

  • Comment number 5.

    This is yet another change to make the Proms uncomfortable for some of its most loyal audience. There are many of my friends in their 60s and 70s who have to sit down in the Arena at the Proms using the seats around the fountain. It is crazy to sacrifice these seats for a few more people in an already crowded space.

    I agree with Shelagh that the space taken up by the fountain is beneficial as a 'breathing space' in the middle of the arena. The fountain is a traditional feature of the Proms and should not be discarded just for a hundred or so more people who could go in the Gallery as happens on very popular nights.

  • Comment number 6.

    How sad the arena lung will not be there this year! I do hope that the increased arena standing places have been approved by the fire regulators. It is very sad that the limited seating in the arena has been announced after season tickets have been bought and the season looked forward to by many, who will now not be able to attend. Many people queue early specifically to be able to sit round the oasis in the middle. Without that opportunity they will not be able to prom as the few remaining seats around the edge of the arena will be needed by the many disabled people who enjoy going to the Proms. It would be a good idea, Roger, for you to be in the hall as the prommers are let in. You will see the rush for the rail and also for the seating in the middle. Who will now rush to the airless centre? I understand that more people will now be able to be fitted in, but at what cost. This new idea needs far more thought.

  • Comment number 7.

    The fountain is as big a part of the Proms traditions as anything else. PLEASE don't remove it. If nothing else, there are those of us, who really need the extra seating it provides. Yes, I suppose these folks could start buying the "cheap seat" tickets, but, once a Prommer, always a Prommer, I think, and being any place other than the arena just wouldn't be the same.

  • Comment number 8.

    Please don't remove the fountain.
    I'm sorry it's an expensive and faffy thing (reading between the lines), but it is loved and very needed. The air truly is better near it and it provides seating for people who cannot stand for the whole concert. If you remove it there simply will not be enough seats for those people. The audience is alienated enough over the season ticket debacle.

  • Comment number 9.

    Please do not remove the fountain. It is a lovely relic from Queen's Hall days which my mother told me about when she was a promenader. However apart from the historical reasons for retaining the fountain, the practical reasons given by my promenader friends are even more important. It does make a difference having space in the centre of the Arena where cool air can circulate, the chairs are important for those unable to stand and as far as the animal visitors to the fountain, please let us have some fun. Has anyone consulted the Fire Officer about the extra numbers proposed in the Arena; remember numbers are already lower than they were 30-40 years ago.

  • Comment number 10.

    Two cheers for your new version of maestrocam. The small image of the conductor to the right and below the main picture works well. It would be three cheers, if you could also stop whoever in the control room is responsible for deciding what pictures are broadcast from fiddling with it as happened during the piano concerto. You could have broadcast a viewpoint from the back of the orchestra showing both the conductor and soloist, or a viewpoint from the arena side showing the soloist and keyboard. Both of these were shown for brief periods. Showing what amounted to a head and shoulders picture of the soloist taken from the other side of the piano was a waste of time.

  • Comment number 11.

    After over 40 years of coming to the Proms may I add my voice to those expressing regret at the fountain decision. Do not destroy a valuable tradition which I need more and more as the years pass. For the first time I bought a season ticket specifically to make sure that I could enjoy this facility, only to be told - with no notice - that it is no longer available. Scrap the water by all means but retain this breathing space; please.

  • Comment number 12.

    I am still working on my legs and back to get me to my first Prom of the season. For a number of years, I have been dependent on the availability of a few seats in the arena so that I could continue to hear the concerts live. For those who appreciate acoustic balance, as I do, sitting at the side is unsatisfactory and, had notice of the change been included in the prospectus, I may have decided that this would be my first since 1990 without an arena season ticket.
    I understand the desirability for increasing the arena capacity but I have been Promming long enough to remember when stewards packed people in around the fountain to the probable detriment of health and safety. Has egress from the arena been improved to accommodate the additional people?

  • Comment number 13.

    This is the first time we have gone for a whole season pass and we are enjoying the concerts enormously BUT we are very relieved to find more seats in the gallery and that we did not choose the arena which I have often found hot and uncomfortable. It is a shame the fountain has gone!


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